Posts Tagged ‘zen’

Magician

“The Magician and the Prince”  |  A Zen Parable from Bambu Batu

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom there lived a bright young prince who believed in all things but three. He did not believe in volcanos, he did not believe in princesses, and he did not believe in God.

One clear summer day, under a sky as blue as corydalis, the prince took his horse on a long, long ride, beyond the boundaries of his father’s vast dominions. Near the summit of a high mountain he met a strange old man. This foreigner spoke to the prince of his own homeland, near the volcanoes, among gentlemen and beautiful princesses.

The prince did not believe these stories, so he demanded to see proof. With the old man, he traveled for another day until they passed a pair of princesses on the road, and later climbed to the rim of a volcano.

The prince hurried home on his steed, and ran straight to the king. “Father! I have seen volcanos! I have seen princesses! I have seen God!”

“But son,” the king replied, “volcanos, princesses and God do not exist.”

“I saw them!”

“Tell me what God looked like.” So the prince described the long beard and the unusual hat as he remembered them. The king sat back and laughed. “You have described a magician. You did not meet God. You were fooled. The princesses and volcanos were simply illusions.”

Disappointed, the prince hopped right back on his horse to cross the hills and find the old man. “You lied to me,” he said. “My father is the king and he has explained your tricks. There are no volcanos and there are no princesses.”

“Aha,” said the old man. “I haven’t tricked you. There are volcanos and princesses in your kingdom as well, but you can’t see them because you are under your father’s spell. For he is a magician as well.”

When the prince returned home again, he looked his father in the eyes and asked him, “Is it true, father, what they say? That you are not a real king, but just a magician?”

“Yes, son, I am only a magician.”

“So the man in the faraway land really was God.”

“No son, that man was just another magician.”

“But I must know the real truth, beyond magic.”

“But there is no truth beyond magic,” said the king.

At this the prince sunk his head in despair and declared, “I will kill myself.”

So the king used his magic and called on Death to appear. The prince trembled in fear. His thoughts then returned to the incredible volcanos, and especially to the beautiful princesses.

“Alright then,” he said. “I can bear it.”

“Very good, my son,” said the king. “You too are becoming a magician!”

THE END

Meditation has always been a wonderful way to calm, center, and focus the mind and spirit.  Evidence out of UCLA suggests that this kind of quiet, directed introspection could also strengthen the connections between neurons and increase the amount of folding in the layers of the brain.  A study by the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging shows that long-term meditators have a higher rate of gyrification, (or the amount of folding found in the cortex), which may allow practitioners to process information faster and integrate emotional and rational intelligence more efficiently.

Furthermore, there was a direct correlation between the amount of years spent in a variety of meditative disciplines, including Zen, Samatha, and Vipassana, and the total folding of the cortex.  After scanning thousands of points across the brain, the researchers also noted pronounced increases in gyrification in specific regions of the brain, most interestingly within the insular regions.  This might suggest a relationship between the area’s autonomic, affective, and integrative aspects and mediation’s goals of self-control, awareness, and introspection.

Following a form of meditation can also help manage physical pain.  A study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Emotion, reported that research out of the of University Montreal discovered that Zen meditators had more grey matter than non-mediators.  This meant that through thickening certain areas of their cortex, particularly the anterior cingulate which regulates pain, they were able to reduce their levels of sensitivity.  Even their perceptions of physical discomfort were less pronounced, as their emotional reactions were more controlled and they experienced less anticipation an anxiety.  Zen thought can even help re -focus someone back to their task at hand after being interrupted by distraction much more quickly.

With such amazing results, why not take a quiet moment or two to recite a mantra, do some yoga, or take a deep breath and ponder the mysteries of the universe?  Your brain may fold in on itself with joy!

 

Among Western laymen, few realize the full breadth of knowledge commanded by an accomplished Zen master. We may appreciate their expertise in the subtleties of the medical, the physical and the metaphysical, yet much of their insight in matters more mundane gets overlooked.

Consider the lesson of one Zen master on the basic subject of arithmetic. He presents his students with this simple story.

“In our village, there once lived this man,” the teacher begins. “He had five hundred dollars, and over the course of his life he gave away four hundred dollars. How much money did the man have when he died?”

Quickly and confidently, the students reply, “One hundred dollars!”

“No,” says the teacher, “you are mistaken. It might look that way, but the deeper truth is that if he had five hundred dollars here on Earth and gave away four hundred, then at his death he would have had four hundred dollars. Because in the end, all you have is what you have given.”

Song of the Day: “The End” by The Beatles.

As we prepare for the major undertaking of relocating the House of Bamboo, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on the fact — sometimes hard to swallow — that everything is always in a state of flux. Or as the ancient Greeks were wont to say, “Pantha rhei,” that is, everything flows. And as other philosophers have pointed out, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” The Tao, like a steady stream, is in constant motion, permanent transition.

Consider the following story, about a boy, the son of a hardworking peanut farmer in the inner Shandong province. One autumn, at the annual harvest festival, the young lad is awarded a handsome young horse for having grown the largest peanut in all the province, some eight inches in length.

The boy gallops back to his village at top speed and shares the great news with his family and friends. Hearing the story and admiring the healthy steed, the boy’s father proclaims, “This is truly marvelous! What good fortune you’ve brought on our family.”

Overhearing this brief exchange, the local Zen master nods his head and surmises, “We’ll see.”

Over the course of weeks, the boy and his horse become inseparable companions. Productivity on the farm increases; the family is in high spirits. But one night, in a fierce storm, the horse gets spooked by thunder, breaks loose and disappears. The boy is devastated and grief stricken. “Oh, what a disaster,” his father declares.

Looking on, the Zen master scratches his chin and mutters, “We’ll see.”

Another week goes by, and one morning the horse is seen coming over the hillside, returning to the farm with a new mare at his side. The boy and his family are ecstatic. “What wonderful news, son!” “Yes, daddy, everything is awesome now!”

The Zen master, hearing the commotion, raises his eyebrows. “We’ll see.”

The boy now spends all his spare time — getting up early and staying out late — working in the stables to break in his new mare. She’s a healthy mount, but stubborn too. One evening after supper, the boy takes her on a run across the field. In the dim twilight she grazes an irrigation ditch and throws the boy from his saddle. A small crowd has gathered when the village doctor arrives. He makes a splint for the boy’s leg which has been broken. “He’ll walk again, but I’m afraid he’ll always have a limp.”

“Oh, what rotten luck,” says the father. And the Zen master sighs, “We’ll see.”

Another year passes, and kingdom is now in turmoil. Mongol hordes are raiding many of the provincial villages, and the emperor is recruiting soldiers from the countryside. When they come to the farm of the boy, now a young man, he is exempted from military service on account of his limp. “Oh, thank heavens!” his mother declares.

The Zen master, observing from a distance, just shrugs his shoulders and mumbles, “We’ll see.”

Medicine Buddha

As we’ve just gotten in a beautiful new batch of mythic eastern statuary, this seems like an apt moment to review the line-up of oriental iconography…

Buddha in Deep Meditation

The cross-legged figure depicts the young Buddha seated in deep meditation. Legend says that Siddhartha Gautama lived off just a single grain of rice a day for six years in hopes of discovering the truth. Finally he sat under the Boddhi tree in quiet solitude, and after 49 days achieved Enlightenment. At that time he became known as the Buddha, or “The Awakened One.”

Fat Laughing Buddha

In order to reach enlightenment, the Buddha first had to discover the Middle Way, the path of moderation between self-indulgence and self-mortification. By following this path, the Buddha was able to transcend duality and all the pairs of opposites, such and good and evil, joy and sorrow, human and divine. With this realization he broke the cycle of suffering, and the fat, laughing buddha expresses this state of bliss.

Hotei, the Rejoicing Buddha

Arms lifted overhead in a display of joyful victory, Hotei is considered the god of good fortune, the representation of contentment and abundance, and sometimes the guardian of children. Whether seated or standing, his message of prosperity and satisfaction remains the same.

Guan Yin

The eastern goddess or bodhisattva of compassion, female embodiment of Avalokiteshvara, Quan Yin’s worship goes back thousands of years, throughout China, Japan, and southeast Asia. Also known as the goddess of mercy, her name literally means “She who hears the cries of the world.” (Also Kuan Yin or Quan Yin.)

Ganesh

The story of this iconic Indian deity goes back many thousands of years and incorporates dozens of myths from the ancient Vedic texts. He is most commonly known as the remover of obstacles, but in his negative aspect he can also be the creator of obstacles. Ganesh is also revered as the lord of success and a guardian of travelers. He is easily recognized with his elephant head and six arms, but has many different incarnations. Most representations of Ganesh include a small mouse at his feet, and often he is even riding on the mouse’s back. This imagery evokes the unity of opposites and a special balance between the grandest and the most humble of creatures. (Other names for Ganesh include Ganesha and Ganapati.)

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